30 Questions at the NHL’s Olympic Break
The NHL’s Olympic break has arrived, with no further action until February 25 to allow for the league’s top players to compete in the Sochi Games. That means no games, no trades, and even no practices (until February 19) for the players who stayed behind. Essentially, the whole league goes on vacation.
But that doesn’t mean we don’t have plenty to talk about. After all, we’re already just 15 days from the season resuming with a mad rush to the playoffs. And while the pre-Olympic transaction freeze arrived Friday without any major moves, the rumor mill will undoubtedly keep churning as we approach the March 5 deadline.
So instead of the regular Monday weekend wrap, let’s take a run through the entire NHL. Here’s a look at all 30 teams, how they head into the break, and what one big question they’ll be looking to answer over the next few weeks.
At the break: They beat the Predators, 5-2, on Saturday to snap a three-game losing streak. Anaheim is three points up on the Blues and Hawks for first place overall.
One question: Has the great Anaheim Ducks Regression Reckoning finally arrived? Every team loses a few in a row sometimes (and Anaheim already lost five straight in November). But the Ducks have benefited from some awfully high percentages this year, leading some to expect that they’re due to revert from truly elite to merely very good.
At the break: They pumped the Senators, 7-2, on Saturday, and have points in 10 of their last 11.
One question: With a seven-point lead on top of the Atlantic, the Bruins seem to be cruising to an easy division title, and their fans may already be looking ahead to a conference final rematch with the Pens. But could fatigue become a possible stumbling block? After last year’s compressed schedule followed by a run to the Cup final, wearing down could become an issue, especially for the five key players who’ll be in Sochi.
At the break: They’ve lost four straight, cementing their spot in last place overall.
One question: Where does Ryan Miller wind up? It now seems all but inevitable that the team will trade its star goalie. And if he gets a chance to shine for Team USA, his price tag could go up.
At the break: They’ve lost two of three after a recent five-game win streak, and go into the break tied for 27th overall.
One question: Will they finally hire a new GM during the break? Presumed favorite Joe Nieuwendyk is out of the running. If nobody’s hired soon, it will be Brian Burke running the show at what’s shaping up to be a crucial trade deadline.
At the break: A 4-1 loss to the Habs on Saturday left them three points out of the wild card.
One question: What’s going to happen with Cam Ward? He hasn’t played an NHL game since being injured in December, but played well in a brief AHL conditioning stint and is back with the Hurricanes. But Carolina has a bit of a logjam in the crease, leading to rumors that Ward could be on the way out.
At the break: After impressive wins over the Kings and Ducks, the Hawks ended on a down note in a 2-0 loss to the Coyotes.
One question: Can they stay healthy in Sochi? Chicago is sending a league-leading 10 players to the Olympics (tied with Detroit and St. Louis), which is a testament to the amount of talent on the roster. But it also means it has the highest odds of losing a key player to an Olympic injury.
At the break: They beat the Islanders, 5-2, to snap a two-game mini-losing streak.
One question: Is a P.A. Parenteau deal imminent? It sure seemed so a week ago, when he was a healthy scratch and rumored to be on his way to Montreal. Nothing came of it, but once the Olympic freeze lifts, anything can happen. Well, OK, not anything.
Columbus Blue Jackets
At the break: They followed a three-game win streak with a pair of tough one-goal road losses against the Kings and Sharks.
One question: When will Marian Gaborik be back? His broken collarbone didn’t heal in time for him to play in the Olympics, but a few weeks off could give him a chance to be back in the lineup at the end of the month … just in time for the trade deadline.
At the break: They’ve won three of four, including a 2-1 win over Phoenix on Saturday that moved them into a tie with the Coyotes for the final wild-card spot.
One question: Are they in or out? They’re a rebuilding team with some veterans who’d make enticing rentals and could help cement the future. But those are awfully hard deals to make when you’re fighting for a playoff spot.
Detroit Red Wings
At the break: A 4-2 loss to the Lightning ended a four-game point streak and left them holding a one-point lead for the East’s final wild-card spot.
One question: Will Pavel Datsyuk be 100 percent for the stretch run? He missed more than a month with a lower-body injury, but returned to play in the final two games before the break. Other players would have probably already pulled out of Sochi, but Datsyuk is the captain of Team Russia. The Wings probably wish he wasn’t playing (and there’s still a chance he may not), but there’s not much they can do about it.
At the break: An overtime loss to the Devils on Friday sent them to the break on a relative hot streak, with five points in their past three.
One question: When do the trade floodgates open? Ales Hemsky is as good as gone, and rumors were swirling that Sam Gagner was headed to L.A. But with the team once again floundering near the bottom of the league, does GM Craig “We have to do some bold things” MacTavish have something bigger in mind?
At the break: They’ve lost five of six with four of those coming by three goals or more, including Friday’s 5-1 loss to the Hurricanes.
One question: Are they finally getting ready to start spending some money? That’s the story they’re floating.
Los Angeles Kings
At the break: They got a desperately needed win on Thursday, beating the Blue Jackets, 2-1, in overtime. It was just their second win in their last 11 games.
One question: What do the Kings need to do to start scoring? They’re one of the worst offensive teams in the league, and have managed one goal or fewer in regulation in seven of their last eight. You would assume that a major trade is imminent; they were linked to Gagner before the freeze, while Thomas Vanek or Matt Moulson could make sense, too. Remember, they made a big deal for Jeff Carter under similar circumstances in 2012, and that worked out OK.
At the break: They’ve collected five points in three February games, and their wild-card spot is looking more secure.
One question: Who’s in net? Josh Harding’s inspirational comeback story has taken a frustrating turn, leading to rumors that the Wild could be in on Miller.
At the break: They’ve won three straight after a tough stretch that had put some heat on coach Michel Therrien.
One question: How will their two Team Canada members do in Sochi? Carey Price could be Canada’s starter, and P.K. Subban’s somewhat controversial selection will have his every move under a microscope. Either guy could come back as a national hero … or a goat.
At the break: They’ve lost three straight, including Saturday’s 5-2 decision to the Ducks.
One question: Can their Olympian get healthy in time to make it to Sochi? No, not Shea Weber or Roman Josi. General manager (and Team USA boss) David Poile took a puck in the face on Thursday and needed surgery for some significant injuries.
New Jersey Devils
At the break: They were shut out, 3-0, by the Caps on Saturday and dropped to three points out of the playoff picture.
One question: Is this Martin Brodeur thing about to get ugly? As unthinkable as it would have seemed over the course of his 20-year career, there’s now talk of Brodeur being traded. He’s been outplayed by Cory Schneider this year, and hasn’t sounded happy about it. Brodeur’s been almost bulletproof PR-wise over the years, but that may be starting to change in some eyes. This all feels like it has the potential to go Code Favre pretty quickly.
New York Islanders
At the break: They’ve lost seven of eight and now look like a lock to finish last in the Metro.
One question: What happens with Thomas Vanek? He wasn’t moved at the pre-Olympic deadline, so now Garth Snow has a few extra weeks to work the phones. Can he get as much in return for Vanek as he gave up to get him?
New York Rangers
At the break: They beat the Penguins in a shootout on Friday, giving them five wins in their last six and 12 wins in 18 since the New Year. They finally look like the team we thought they’d be all season.
One question: How does the Ryan Callahan saga end? After a week of rumors, he wasn’t moved before the Olympics after all. The Rangers may still re-sign him, though presumably those talks will be on hold while he’s in Sochi with Team USA.
At the break: After winning two straight, they were decimated, 7-2, on Saturday by a Bruins team that didn’t even have Zdeno Chara.
One question: Are they actually any good? Seriously, I live here and watch this team all the time and I’m completely stumped.
At the break: They edged the Flames, 2-1, for their fourth consecutive win and head to the break holding down third in the Metro.
One question: Is Steve Mason back on track? He struggled after signing an extension last month, but looked good in February.
At the break: They lost a pair to the Stars last week, allowing Dallas to tie them for the last wild-card spot.
One question: Will Mike Smith see the ice in Sochi? He enters the Games as Canada’s nominal third-string, but he’s been hot in February.
At the break: They lost a shootout to the Rangers on Friday and have a five-point lead over the Bruins for top seed in the East.
One question: What does the future look like for star defenseman Kris Letang? He’s been out of the lineup since last week, and on Wednesday the team revealed the reason why: He’d suffered a stroke. Although the Penguins say the situation is not career-threatening, he’ll be off skates for six weeks before being reevaluated.
St. Louis Blues
At the break: They’ve earned seven of a possible eight points in February, with all four games ending in overtime or the shootout.
One question: Are they ready to make a major move once the freeze lifts? They’ve been linked to Miller all year, but recent rumors have focused on Callahan.
San Jose Sharks
At the break: They edged Columbus, 3-2, for their first regulation win in their last eight.
One question: Can they stay focused? Barring a collapse by the Ducks, San Jose seems all but locked into second place in the Pacific.
Tampa Bay Lightning
At the break: They beat the Red Wings, 4-2, on Saturday to move back into second place in the Atlantic, and they can look forward to the return of Steven Stamkos after the break.
One question: Is Ben Bishop OK? The season’s breakout star was forced to leave a game on January 30 with an apparent head injury after a collision with a teammate. He passed his concussion test and returned to the lineup two nights later, but left Thursday’s game with a mysterious upper-body injury. He was back in the lineup on Saturday.
Toronto Maple Leafs
At the break: After a four-game January losing streak had them on the verge of falling out of the playoffs, the Leafs have won 11 of 14 and are now thinking about home ice in Round 1.
One question: Did they actually fix anything? The fancy stats say not really, though they’ve narrowed their shots gap slightly. The return of Dave Bolland should help, since the front office has been aggressively singing his praises all year. Unless, uh, that same front office trades him instead.
At the break: They’re in a free fall. Seven consecutive losses, including a 3-1 decision in Toronto on Saturday in which they led heading into the third, have dropped them out of a playoff spot. They’re banged up, they look old, and John Tortorella doesn’t seem to have many answers.
One question: Will Henrik Sedin be back to 100 percent? He’d tried to return from a rib injury in time to play in Sochi, but looked awful and was ruled out. With the season slipping away, the Canucks desperately need him to get healthy.
At the break: They shut out the Devils 3-0 on Saturday and are one of three teams sitting one point back of the East’s final wild-card spot.
One question: What will Sochi do to Alexander Ovechkin’s head? Every Team Russia player is feeling the pressure, but perhaps none more than Ovechkin.
At the break: The Jets have been one of the hottest teams in the league since firing Claude Noel, going 9-3-1 since Paul Maurice took over.
One question: Has Maurice really made a difference, or was this just a short-term boost? While the team obviously isn’t quite as good as their recent record suggests, some analysis indicates that Maurice really is having an impact.